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Jury will hear closing arguments in first Penn State hazing death trial

Written by Min Xian/WPSU | May 30, 2019 4:50 AM
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Jurors will listen to closing arguments before beginning deliberation on Thursday, the third day of the trial for Braxton Becker in the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte. (Min Xian/WPSU)

(Bellefonte) -- After hearing the cross-examination of State College Police Detective David Scicchitano and three additional witnesses on Wednesday, jurors will listen to closing arguments before beginning deliberation on Thursday, the third day of the trial for Braxton Becker.

Becker was a member and the house manager of the now-defunct Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State. He was accused of deleting security footage of the house basement, in the aftermath of the hazing death of Penn State student Tim Piazza, who suffered fatal injuries while attending a bid acceptance event in February 2017.

Scicchitano testified on Wednesday that, although he knew from his investigation that there were hazing activities happening in the house basement, he was told the cameras in the basement didn't work, and he was "surprised" to see some basement footage in July, prompting suspicion that some videos were missing.

Prosecutors from the state Attorney General's office said they believe Becker showed "intention and willingness" to delete evidence in anticipation of a police investigation, citing messages he exchanged with other fraternity brothers. In one text conversation, Becker wrote, "I can see if I can erase last night." Defense attorney Karen Muir countered that Becker said brothers needed to "talk about it," and he never said he deleted the videos.

In text and GroupMe messages, there were a few fraternity members who opposed or expressed concern over the idea of deleting any evidence, but, prosecutors said, Becker didn't.

FBI Computer Forensic Examiner Jason Palek and Product Manager of Speco Technologies Yolanda Herrera both took the witness stand on Wednesday. They testified that a user manually entered a "Clear all data" command into the system of DVR box number two in the fraternity house, and pinpointed the action to have taken place at a time that police knew Becker was operating the system.

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Braxton Becker, left, left the Centre County Courthouse during the first day of the jury trial on his alleged deletion of security footage in relation to the case of the hazing death of Tim Piazza in 2017. (Min Xian/WPSU)

There's no evidence that Becker was the one who carried out the command, according to Muir. The system log doesn't indicate who took the action, although it had to be done in front of the DVR boxes, since records show it wasn't accessed remotely at that time.

Defense also said the DVRs weren't functioning properly around that time, and repair was done just days before the bid acceptance event. David McKinley, of X-Pert Communications in State College, did the repair and testified on Wednesday that both DVR boxes were operational, although he wasn't asked to check the box where the alleged deletion happened.

Both sides rested their cases on Wednesday and will give closing statements on Thursday. The jury will deliberate afterward.

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